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This psalm is the second to last in the series of psalms “of the sons of Korah” that began with Psalm 42. In Psalms 42-43 we hear the complaint of the single person and in Psalm 44 the complaint of the whole remnant. They are in distress and cry out to God to deliver them from the power of the enemy. They are especially distressed because of their flight from the land, which makes them feel an immense lack of staying in the temple. Psalm 45 presents Christ as the answer to their cry to God for help. He is the One through Whom deliverance and their return to the land, Jerusalem and the temple will come.
Psalm 46 expresses trust in God through the experience of God’s grace in the present. Psalm 47 celebrates God’s intervention on behalf of His people, with Christ being King over all the earth and Israel exalted above the nations. The call is to praise God together. Psalm 48 presents the King in Zion, the center of government from which He rules over all the earth. This psalm also talks about the importance of the city and temple of God to the heart of God.
Psalm 45 speaks of the beauty of the King (Psalms 45:2), Who is the great King in Zion (Psalms 47:2). Psalm 48 speaks of the beauty of Zion (Psalms 48:2), the city of the great King. Then the name Jerusalem will be changed to Yahweh Tsidkenu, which is “the LORD is our righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:16), and to Yahweh Shammah, which is “The LORD is there” (Ezekiel 48:35). Jerusalem has become the capital of the world (cf. Isaiah 2:2-Leviticus :).
The City of God
This “psalm” is called “a song” (Psalms 48:1). By “a song” is usually meant a song of praise. It is a song of praise about the LORD’s victory over all His enemies. Now the realm of peace is dawning. The word “song” appears in the heading in five psalms (Psalms 48:1; Psalms 66:1Psalms 83:1; Psalms 88:1Psalms 108:1).
For “of the sons of Korah” see at Psalm 42:1.
Finally, there is rest for the believing remnant. God is seated on His holy throne (Psalms 47:8). This leads them to exclaim: “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised” (Psalms 48:1). God is “great”. God’s greatness is reflected in this psalm in the beauty of Zion, the city of the great King. We see as a comparison the same thing with King Solomon, whose greatness is reflected in the house he built and in his servants (1 Kings 10:4-Deuteronomy :).
God is exalted above all peoples and their gods. He has shown His power over them and overthrown all the hostile powers that were raised up against His city. Therefore, He is “greatly to be praised”. He is worthy of all praise and worship, both in His Person and in His actions.
He dwells “in the city of our God”. It is the city of God because He dwells there and has ascended His throne. He has chosen that city Himself. The Korahites speak of “the city of our God” because the God who dwells in His city is their God. His throne and His temple are both on “His holy mountain”, which is Mount Zion. It is His “holy” mountain, which further emphasizes that God is there.
They primarily sing of the city of Jerusalem in this song as a stronghold and a safe dwelling place. But they begin their song by singing of the beauty of the city, which is perfect (Psalms 48:2; Psalms 50:2). This is the first thing that strikes them when they see the city (cf. Ezekiel 16:14; Lamentations 2:15; Mark 13:1). The city is “beautiful in elevation”. The word “beautiful” is used except here for the city only for the Messiah (Psalms 45:2). This indicates that the city is “beautiful” because of the Messiah Who dwells there. ‘Elevation’ in Hebrew is literally ‘height’. The city stands out above all other cities. This is so both because of the presence of the great King in that city and geographically (Zechariah 14:10).
Because Christ sits on His throne as King-Priest, there is joy for the whole earth. From the city of God, where the throne of Messiah stands and He reigns, blessing goes out over the whole earth (cf. Isaiah 2:1-Deuteronomy :). There is peace and joy everywhere. By “Mount Zion” is meant the city of Jerusalem. That it speaks of in “the far north” means that it is the place of God’s government (Isaiah 14:13). First God’s government was from heaven, but now it is also on earth. This is the fulfillment of two verses from the prayer the Lord Jesus taught His disciples, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
God is in her palaces, or strongholds, of the city in which princes dwell (Psalms 48:3). The strength and security of Jerusalem lie in the presence of God in the city. Because it is known that God has chosen the city as His dwelling place, the inhabitants of the city have no fear of outside threats mentioned in the next verse.
Those outside threats have been frequent in earlier days (Psalms 48:4). Hostile kings have jointly marched against the city in the past. Perhaps here we can think of the enemies who went up against Jehoshaphat and were defeated by God’s action (2 Chronicles 20:1-Exodus :; 2 Chronicles 20:22-Isaiah :).
Another clear evidence of God’s protection is His deliverance of Jerusalem in the days when Sennacherib besieged the city (Isaiah 37:36). In the future, He will deliver Jerusalem from the king of the north and still later from the armies coming from the far north (Daniel 11:45; Ezekiel 39:1-Joshua :).
From this action of God against those who have the audacity to attack His city, we see how valuable this city is to Him. It is His dwelling place that He has amidst His people. There He wants to be worshiped and served by them. God will retaliate for every attack on the apple of His eye. This is also true for us who are the church of the living God (1 Corinthians 3:16-Esther :).
God makes sure that the attackers of His city will see something whereby they will be “amazed” and “terrified” (Psalms 48:5). What they will see is not mentioned. The city, “it” is in brackets in this verse, indicating that these words are not in the original text. Nor is it likely that the sight of the city will amaze and terrify them. More likely is an appearance of a heavenly army or of the LORD Himself (cf. 2 Kings 6:14-Esther :; Isaiah 37:36).
In any case, what they will see will cause them to flee in alarm. They came (Psalms 48:4), they saw (Psalms 48:5) and … they fled (Psalms 48:5). They have thought, in the words of Julius Caesar’s famous saying, Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered), that they would take Jerusalem. Instead, it will be for them, to put it with a pun of Julius Caesar's saying: Veni, Vidi, Vanish. As quickly as they can, they will move away from the city. No one, however, will escape.
What seemed to them to be an easy victory becomes a dramatic downfall. They are seized with “panic” (Psalms 48:6). They tremble with fear and feel the pain and anguish “as of a woman in childbirth”. This description of the enemies’ downfall makes the remnant realize all the more the value of that city and that temple on that mountain to God.
Encouraged by God’s action on their behalf as just described, they turn to Him (Psalms 48:7). They express confidence that “with the east wind” He will “break the ships of Tarshish”. Just as the ships of Tarshish are powerless against an east wind, so the enemies of the great King are powerless against the sight of His majesty (Psalms 48:5).
They have seen this perspective fulfilled (Psalms 48:8), having previously heard about it from the mouths of the Old Testament prophets. They have also heard what God has done for His people in the past (Psalms 44:1). God has stood up for His people in the past and He has done so once again.
In the city dwells the Captain of the heavenly hosts. God no longer protects from heaven like He did in the past, but He now protects the city by His very presence in the city. He deploys His heavenly hosts as soon as His city is attacked. That city is “the city of our God”, the city where He Himself is. Therefore it is the city of His people. Therefore, every attack is a suicide attempt. It is an impossible task to besiege this city, let alone to conquer it, because “God will establish her forever”.
We can also apply this to the church. We, the church, are the New Jerusalem, in which God dwells. We too may rejoice in this fact. We too may know that nothing and no one can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:31-Malachi :).
There is no power on earth or in the heavenly places that can conquer or even do any harm to God’s New Testament city, the church (Revelation 21:9-2 Samuel :). That city is built on the rock, that is Son of the living God. Therefore, the gates of Hades, or the power of the realm of the dead, will not be able to overpower it (Matthew 16:16-Job :). She abides in the perfection of the Son for all eternity.
The Glory of Zion
Psalms 48:9-1 Kings : are a thanksgiving to the covenant faithfulness of God, revealed in righteousness (Psalms 48:10) and in judgment (Psalms 48:11). While before, in Psalms 48:1-Ruth :, God is spoken of, God is now spoken to. After describing God’s protection, the Korahites talk about what they do and where they do it (Psalms 48:9). They address God in admiration, Whom they address with “O God”, in which we note a heartfelt expression of fellowship with Him.
They say to Him that they remember His lovingkindness, that is, His covenant faithfulness, and do so “in the midst of Your temple”. This is the most beautiful and intimate place for them, the closest to God. There they remember all that He has done for them with the result that they may now be here, so close to Him. He has “made His wonders to be remembered” (Psalms 111:4).
This also applies to the church. We may come together as a church and then know that the Lord Jesus is in the midst (Matthew 18:20). There is nothing more beautiful and intimate than to be in the place where He is in the midst. There we may think of Him, which we do especially when we proclaim His death “in remembrance” of Him. This is according to the desire of His heart. In doing so, we also think of His covenant faithfulness, as the Lord Jesus says of the drinking cup: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood“ (1 Corinthians 11:23-Lamentations :). Therefore, the desire of every one who loves Him also goes out to be there and to do that (cf. Isaiah 26:8).
When we come to know the spiritual riches of the Name of God, we will be impressed with its glory (Psalms 48:10). As we have personally come to know Him in His care, protection and deliverance both for us and for His people, we will praise Him and do so “to the ends of the earth”. As far as Israel is concerned, it goes beyond the borders of the land (that is also how the text can be translated). It means that the Name of the LORD is great, not only in Israel, but throughout the world. For us, it means that we will keep nothing of it for ourselves or make His glory known only in a small circle.
His “right hand is full of righteousness”, meaning that He has done great and glorious deeds. In this case, we are talking about deeds that flow from the covenant, deeds that are in accordance with the terms and contents of the covenant. Every act of His is an act of righteousness. He can only act in righteousness. Whoever sees that, can only boast in it. Never will there be any criticism of it. On the contrary, it gives constant and ever more reason to honor Him for it.
The effect of these acts of righteousness is joy (Psalms 48:11). “Mount Zion” is called upon to “be glad”. God has taken care of her and has done so in a righteous way. The result is a joy that does not fade away, but is permanent.
It is also a joy shared by all who are connected to God’s people. God has brought about that joy. In “the daughters of Judah” we can see the cities of Judah. Not only are the inhabitants of Jerusalem rejoicing, but the inhabitants of all Judah. They all share in the revelry of deliverance “because of Your judgments”, which are the judgments of God on the enemies. In accordance with the covenant, the judgments involve Israel receiving deliverance and the enemies being judged. Because of their conformity to the covenant, these judgments give joy to the hearts of the people, which is not normally the case with judgment.
Deliverance provides the opportunity to go out of Zion and see the city from the outside. The remnant is invited to walk around Zion (Psalms 48:12; cf. Nehemiah 12:31; Nehemiah 12:38Nehemiah 12:40). Then they will find that the city is perfectly safe. There are no more breaches in the wall, the towers are strong and the gates fortified and secure.
They must count the towers and will find that they are all still there. The towers serve to strengthen the city while enhancing its beauty. But the ultimate strength, safety and beauty is God Himself. For New Testament believers, the key is to count the parts of the spiritual armor to see if all seven parts are still there or if something might be missing (Ephesians 6:14-Job :).
They must “consider her rampart” (Psalms 48:13). The rampart is a defense work in front of the wall. It is still fully intact and has not suffered a scratch (cf. Isaiah 26:1). Looking at Zion and especially noticing how God has protected the city is a matter of the heart. It involves noticing what God has done for the benefit of the city.
The same goes for “her palaces”, which are the royal residences. Usually they are fortified and protected. Let them examine them closely. Then they will notice that everything is there and that they can serve permanently as the residence of the prince. It is all thanks to God’s protection.
The last line of Psalms 48:13 tells the reason for walking around Zion, counting its towers and considering its ramparts and palaces: they are to “tell the next generation” what they have examined. In doing so, it is not primarily about Zion, but about the God of Zion. God Himself is the beauty and power of the city. What has happened to Zion, the protection the city has experienced, is due to God. The word “for” (Psalms 48:14) indicates this.
We can apply the call of Psalms 48:12-1 Chronicles : to the church. It is a great privilege to know we belong to the church of the living God. But there is a danger that through habit we no longer see the special privilege. Then we have to leave the place of worshiping God, as it were, for a while in order to turn our hearts to the city. We do this by delving into the Word of God to find out what the church means to God’s heart.
We must set our hearts on it and look closely at it (cf. Ezekiel 43:10-2 Kings :). When we examine in God’s Word what the church is, we also have something to tell “to the next generation” (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2). We will do so with enthusiasm and will encourage the children to make that considering or examination as well. Thus, each generation can become a first generation itself.
It comes down to whether we can answer our children’s questions when they ask us why we do things the way we do them (cf. Exodus 12:26-Daniel :; Deuteronomy 6:21-Song of Solomon :; Joshua 4:6-Judges :; Joshua 4:20-Jeremiah :). They do notice whether we give only a rational, theologically correct answer, or whether our answer comes from a heart that has examined and embraced these things.
If we do not have an answer, it is quite possible that we ourselves are bystanders. The children will not get excited or examine the Scriptures themselves. They will look for a church where they feel comfortable if they look for a church at all. We should not be bystanders, but know what the church is by going “around the city” in Scripture ourselves and thus become impressed with the dwelling place of God.
The city here is that which is seen outwardly from God’s government as King. We may certainly pass on what we have seen of the beauty and inviolability of the city. However, what it is mainly about is that we pass on what we have seen of the God of the city in His government in the lives of His own, past and present.
It is about being able to say with admiration and enthusiasm: “Our God is forever and ever” (Psalms 48:14). This God, our God, has caused all the attacks on the city to fail. His church will respond to His purpose.
The psalm concludes by expressing the assurance that God will be the God of His people “forever and ever”. What the Lord Jesus says confirms this: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
The remnant also knows that He will “guide” them “until death”. This means that the last enemy, death, has not yet been abolished. The remnant is presently still in great distress. But they are greatly encouraged in their spirit by what the Spirit of Christ has shown them about the city of God and God’s dwelling place. With that perspective before them, they can even face death without becoming afraid of it.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 48". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent